The “claim that Trump is uniquely selfish or malevolent is not only dubious but irrelevant. The point of checks and balances is that they protect us against liberty-threatening power grabs, regardless of the motives behind them. As Louis Brandeis observed, ‘The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.’ If the Trump presidency reawakens progressives to the importance of limiting executive power, that would indeed be a positive development. It would be even better if they remembered that lesson the next time a Democrat occupies the White House.” ~ Jacob Scullum
Progressives like Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept understand this danger: threats to liberty do not come from one party. Every president and every politician has his or her own weaknesses and strengths. That makes them human. Moreover, we should not look for super-human qualities in our leaders, any more than we would accept sub-human qualities. What we can look for is a moral commitment to freedom, to Jefferson’s concept of liberty based on natural rights, as an essential qualification for any person who wants a position of leadership in our democracy.
People understood that Reagan had that commitment. That’s one reason they admire him so much now. He combined a moral commitment to liberty with love of country in a way we have not seen since. That’s why people regard his leadership as special. We have not seen it since.
Commitment to freedom supersedes all other political commitments because it presupposes moral equality under God.
Since 9/11, presidents don’t bother with liberty. The exception was George W. Bush in his second inaugural, a speech loaded up with dangerous thoughts about bringing democracy to the rest of the world. The subtext, dressed up in Wilsonian language, was: “We started a war in the Middle East to create client democracies friendly to U. S. interests. Let’s keep rolling!” Just as cynically, Bush preached freedom against a dark domestic backdrop, where the Patriot Act, unlimited domestic surveillance, and militarized police forces all built on a stew of fears and anxieties the feds stirred together during Bush’s first term.
Commitment to freedom supersedes all other political commitments because it presupposes moral equality under God. One secures the other, as freedom and equality do not exist separately. These conditions of democracy mean that other problems of public policy – especially issues related to how government officials interact with citizens – resolve themselves in favor of citizen control over officials. That resolution must hold because officials must obey the people. That’s what we mean by government of the people, by the people, and for the people. If you ask people of all persuasions if they agree we have that kind of government now, how many do you think would say ‘yes’?
Trump’s election bears one loud message to Washington: stop! Stop what you are doing. Turn back. Donald Trump, however, is not the right leader for the message. He does not even understand it.
Though I’m rather pessimistic about renewed commitments to democracy at the moment, Jacob Scullum’s hope still resides in the right place. Trump’s behavior may remind all of us about the correct balance between consent of the governed on one side, and actual power exercised by the executive branch on the other. Right now, government has skewed that balance far from its roots in Jefferson and Madison. We are losing our democracy, fast. Election of Trump does not signify consent to that process. It merely signifies that the federal government, long before Trump took office, ceased to act in the interests of people who pay government’s bills.
Trump’s election bears one loud message to Washington: stop! Stop what you are doing. Turn back. Donald Trump, however, is not the right leader for the message. He does not even understand it. Our president has no commitment to freedom, no grasp of how citizens ought to oversee and limit government’s activities, and no ability to restrain himself or anyone else in use of government’s considerable powers. We might hope we have hit bottom here, but we had a long way to fall. The hole may be pretty deep.
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